MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As you might imagine virtual doctor visits have taken off since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What wasn’t expected is just how much they’ve changed the health care landscape

At Allina Health, two months ago they were doing 20 to 30 virtual visits a day.

Now, they are helping about 5,000 patients a day through virtual care.

“I’ll admit going in somewhat skeptical about how can a surgeon help virtually,” said Katie Maurer.

When Katie’s 81-year-old mother was having nerve pain, she wanted to get her help without going into a health care facility. So instead of doing something in-person, they went online.

“I was pleasantly surprised at how well it went and the results we got from it,” said Katie.

“To be honest it’s changed dramatically as you might imagine,” said Dr. Dave Ingham of Allina Health.

Dr. Ingham keeps an eye on the digital health landscape for Allina. They’ve watched their virtual world change from pre-COVID to COVID.

“99% of our mental health visits are being performed through virtual means,” said Dr. Ingham.

And more than 60% of their visits overall are now done by video or over the phone. A percentage that will continue to increase.

“We can have a visit like this and still connect on a fairly good level with those patients,” said Dr. Ingham.

Dr. Ingham said the visits work especially well for patients with pre-existing conditions who are afraid to go to the doctor. For example, he said most diabetics can stay home and still get help through blood sugar readings.

“If you can communicate that at home, I can send a new prescription to the pharmacy. I can instruct you over video to increase the dose or decrease the dose depending on how things are going,” said Dr. Ingham.

But there are still cases where a virtual visit needs to turn into a doctor visit. Allina is seeing fewer heart attack and stroke patients and there’s concern some are afraid to go in until it’s too late. They want patients of all kinds to know they’re still open for business.

“I want to encourage folks that if you think you need to be seen in clinic it’s certainly safe to come in. Same goes for our ERs and urgent cares,” said Dr. Ingham.

Dr. Ingham said that many hospitals are able to safely separate patients with respiratory conditions from patients with non-respiratory conditions.

John Lauritsen